Socialist Party of Great Britain Members at Annual Conference at Fairfax Hall Harringay c1936
As part of another line of research I’ve picked up again of late, I found a couple of references to Fairfax Hall on Portland Gardens, better known to most of us these days as the Kurdish Community Centre. The references were intriguing enough for me to dig a little further. What I found struck me as a tale of a decent slice of London’s 20th Century history.
I hope I’ve done enough to give a good flavour of the story of what is to most of us a rather anonymous and undistinguished, even largely forgotten little building.
So, here in rather short order are the bare bones of what I found out.
The plot of land on which Fairfax Hall was purchased from the developers of the Gardens, The Provident Association of London on 8 June 1898 by Albert Greenfield. Originally a terraced house stood at the front of the plot and was the last house in the row. This house was knocked down at some point after 1953 and the entrance widened.
Fairfax Hall appears to have started life as an events-hall-for-hire hall cum dancing school. The earliest mention I’ve been able to find of the building was in the London Free Press paper on September 10, 1898. Although it was contained in an advertisement for a dancing school in Finchley, it suggests that the Hall was in operation by that date.
In a June 1900 edition of the Crouch End Mercury and Observer, Mr Greenfield was thanked for the use of Fairfax Hall for use by the committee of the Harringay, Hornsey & Wood Green Carnival. The Hall was pressed into service for the storage of flowers to be used in the making of buttonholes for the carnival the by "Buttonhole Brigade".
Liz's research turned up a reference to the Fairfax Dancing Academy at 11 Portland Gardens and run by 'Greenfield and Edwards, Professors of Dancing'. Edwards was Greenfield's business partner, Herbert Edwards. Number 11 seems to have been used as the address for the both the Hall and the terraced house where they lived. Both in their early thirties when they started the school, the 1901 census shows that the pair lived together with a young housekeeper and a teenage servant.
In 1902 Greenfield had married Emily and at some point after that, Edwards moved down the road to Number 5, where he is shown as residing in the 1911 census, together with his wife and a servant.
Business was apparently going we and in a June 1904 edition of The Builder, we read of a tender that was advertised for a project to extend Fairfax Hall. As well as indicating business growth, it also suggests that a basic hall might have been constructed by Provident at the time Greenfield purchased the property.
The Builder (Vol 86) June 11 1904
By the end of 1905, the pair were advertising themselves as "the largest private academy of dancing in London". So perhaps their extension was complete and they were feeling very proud of their new premises!
Islington Gazette, Dec 22 1905
Five years later, their advertising laid out in more detail what was on offer, They seem to have expanded their offering and as well as their claims to size - no longer only the biggest private academy of dancing:
The hall-for-hire side of the business also seems to have been going well and a wide range of events were held there. Amongst them, a couple of such uses hinted at the building's future links with the emerging forces of socialism.
Both articles from London North Mercury & Crouch End Observer; left from June 21, 1902,
right from February 2, 1901
By 1905 the Ethical Society were regular users.
Hazell’s Annual of 1908 outlines what these societies were about.
Ethical Societies are associations for promoting ethical culture.
Their objects are:
(a) by purely natural and human means to help men to love, know and do the right;
(b) to emphasise the moral factor in all personal, social, political, national, and international relations;
(c) to affirm that moral ideas and the moral life are independent of beliefs as to the ultimate nature of things and as to a life after death;
(d) to assist in developing the science of ethics.
The article goes on to list all the Societies established in London, including Wood Green Ethical Society, Fairfax Hall, Harringay, N.
Discussions held at Fairfax Hall in 1905 included:
There were also purely social occasions such as a fund-raising dance for a local cricket club in 1905 or a double golden wedding anniversary celebration in 1908.
Left: London North Mercury And Crouch End Observer, January 20, 1905
Right: London Evening News July 18, 1908
SECOND DECADE & THE GREENFIELD'S PRIVATE WAR
Greenfield's association with the site continued into the second decade of the 20th century and into the Second World War.
Whilst the evidence of the dance school side of the business is harder to come by after 1910, it does appear that it carried on. In 1914, Greenfield and Edwards were apparently running the academy from number 5 Portland Gardens, but other sources show that Greenfield was still running a dancing business at the Hall at least until 1914.
Greenfield's business interests also expanded at this time. By the spring of 1914 he had acquired another property in Winchmore Hill. On the corner of Green Lanes, Firs Lane and Elm Park Road, the now demolished building was called Firs House (latterly Firs Hall). This seems to have been run purely a banqueting/events hall. As with the premises in Harringay, Greenfield had also acquired the adjacent house in Winchmore Hill at 41 Elm Park Road.
Greenfield seems to have split his time between the two business. A disastrous turn of events in his domestic life suggests that he was wither neglecting things at home in favour of his businesses, or using work to escape from them.
By 1915, Greenfield had brought to the Divorce Court, by his wife Emily, who claimed that he was guilty of adultery and emotional and physical cruelty. Greenfield made some very lurid counter-claims about similar cruel behaviour meted out to him by Emily.
It appears that matters had gone wrong early in the marriage. Emily's claims of adulterous behaviour and the claims and counter-claims of cruelty and violence between the pair seem to start from 1907. By 1913 things were apparently coming to a boiling point and spilling over into the two businesses. Albert cites this incident in April 1913 to evidence Emil's unreasonable behaviour:
She publicly insulted a lady pianist employed by the Respondent in his business by accusing her of being a person of sexually immoral character
The divorce papers make difficult reading and for the purposes of this history, it is probably not appropriate to dwell on them too long, save for a quick mention of the outcome.
The court cleared Albert of adultery, but granted the divorce. By 1915 Emily was living separately at 28 Raleigh Road. She was granted maintenance and custody of her daughter Albert was given charge of his two sons.
Albert lived to the ripe old age of 87. He died. living in an apartment in Lord Kitchener's old house at Broome Park in Barham Kent in 1957, leaving £14,000 in his will.
LIFE IN THE HALL GOES ON
Despite events in the Greenfield's personal life, the hall-for-hire side of the business seems to have continued and to have become its bread and butter for the next decade or so.
By 1911, Harringay had set up its own Ethical Society and Fairfax Hall became home to the meetings of the Harringay Ethical Society. However, the branch seemed to be fairly short-lived. With the changes in society that accompanied the passing of the Edwardian age, things were moving on. The society held their last discussion meeting on Sunday 2nd November 1913 (a discussion entitled 'George Bernard Shaw - Idealist").
The Hall was also attracting groups from beyond the local area. In 1911, Railway News reported that “a successful whist drive, followed by a short informal dance, was promoted by the tennis section of the Great Northern Railway Athletic Association on Wednesday evening last, at the Fairfax Hall, Harringay, N., when 102 members and friends ...”
THE GREAT WAR YEARS
The second decade of the twentieth century also saw the start of the hall's association with radical politics in London. In desperate need of funds, the Herald League was using Fairfax Hall to hold fundraising dances. (Set up in 1912, the Herald League was a working class political movement).
During the First World War, the League campaigned against the war and supported the conscientious objection movement. It held a number of dances in the hall it entitled "The Dance of the Objectors". One of these dances was attended by Sylvia Pankhurst who gave a short speech during proceedings.
The following clip from the Daily Herald published a month after the Pankhurst dance (18 March 1916), gives a sense of the need for fund-raising. It also shows how the group members had already adopted some of the language of socialism:
The Hall was also used by supporters of the War. In September 1915, the Commercial Motor Magazine reported “Fairfax Hall, Harringay, was gaily decorated on Friday evening last, when the staff of Palmer's Green garage of the L.G.O.C. gave a tea and entertainment to the wives and children of the busmen who are serving their country at the Front.” (I'm guessing that LGOC was the London and General Omnibus Company).
By the latter part of 1916, such had become the need to increase the war effort that the hall was pressed into service as a military equipment factory. For the final two years of the war, Fairfax Hall was one of a string of buildings used to produce gas mask components and to assemble gas masks. A 1918 War Office record characterised the activity as “Anti Gas Work".
Gas masks of the sort that were assembled in Fairfax Hall as shown in a contemporary
edition of the in Illustrated London News
AFTER THE WAR
With the end of war, the hall returned to use as a meeting venue, though apparently the meetings it was hosting were soon beginning to be rather more racy than those held there before the war.
Things started off sedately enough in February 1920 when the Union of Ethical Societies held a dance in the hall with tickets at the bargain price of 2s. 6d. Then, on Sunday, October 21st the Annual General Meeting of North Middlesex Division of British Medical Association was held in the hall.
In the years to come however, the hall continued to attract a radical crowd. From the mid 1920s and through the 1930s, the Socialist Party of Great Britain held its annual conference at the hall every Easter. Proceedings apparently included a customary Saturday-night social.
SPGB "Family Photo" behind Fairfax Hall, 1921
Manchester Guardian April 22nd 1935
The Guardian, April 13 1936
Clearly word of Fairfax Hall spread amongst the more radical groups of London. In 1929 Maurice Perlzweig, President of the Young Zionist Organisation of the United Kingdom was holding public meetings there, the Zionist Review tells us. Other users included the Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the West Ham Corporation Employees' Federal Council.
SECOND WORLD WAR & THE MOVIE YEARS
As the Thirties drew to a close, war once again seems to have upset regular life at the hall.
Greenfield was certainly still associated with the hall up until 1939 and it seems likely that he held on to it until 1944. An unspecified Land Registry entry in that year probably marks the end of his ownership of the Hal and the start of a new chapter in its life.
By 1945, the Ordnance Survey map shows the building as Fairfax Halls Workshops (Clothing). This was apparently initially a belt and button manufacturers owned by brothers Henry and Leonard Moring. It may be that the hall had once more been pressed into war service and that the belts and buttons made there were for the military.
A wartime meeting between American George Moreno, the Moring brothers and and their accountant associate from Walthamstow led to the a rather exciting episode in the hall's life. During the war Moreno served on the Pictorial unit of the American Army. The meeting between the four men gave birth to the idea of British Cartoons. Shortly after the war, in 1947 they set up British Animated Productions moved in and turned the building, or a part of it, into a film studio.
For a short while the hall hosted the production of some of the UK's first colour cartoons, though not under its old Fairfax Hall name. The Kinematograph Directory lists the film company’s address as Hawker House, Portland Gardens, Harringay. This mild flirtation with glamour was not to last however and by 1950, the studio's output seems to have dwindled. The business folded as the lifting of wartime restrictions on foreign products saw the market flooded with cheap American-made cartoons.
Following this flirtation with glamour, the building returned to its more humdrum existence and continued as a clothing factory.
HoL member Rowena Young commented,
I lived in Portland Gardens in the 1950s The hall at one time was a button factory and they also made the red riding coats for show jumpers. When the vans came down the street is the only time we had to get out of the road.
This snippet is from the OS map published in 1953. (Note that the house at number 11 is still showing).
Records at the land registry show that in 1964 the famous British High Street men's clothing shop Moss Bros sold the premises to Tottenham Council. So it may be that they took over the premises in the late Forties after the failure of British Animated Productions.
I'm assuming that it was Moss Bros who knocked down the house at Number 11 to create better vehicular access.
Given the covenant Moss Bros placed on the property at the time of sale, it seems likely that they were using it for manufacturing:
The Corporation hereby covenant with the Transferors that they the Corporation and their successors in title will not use or permit to be used during a period of ten years from the above date the property hereby transferred or any part thereof for the trade or business of manufacturing or the making or in any way dealing with Mens Women's or Children's clothing of any kind whatsoever.
THE COUNCIL & COMMUNITY TAKE OVER
Whilst I haven't yet tracked down the full story of what what use the Council made of the building for the 25 years they held it, but I have found out some of the story. At least from 1974 to 1979 it was occupied by the Social Services Department as Fairfax Halls. They were using it as a day centre catering for approximately 60 elderly or physically handicapped people.
In 1986 the Kurdistan Workers Association was set up by a small group of Kurdish friends. They saw a need among the growing Kurdish refugee community arriving in London to get together, help each other and to support new arrivals. They rented the building from the Council. By 1991 it was listed in various directories as the Kurdistan Information Centre. This seems to have changed to the Kurdish Community Centre from December 1997 when the Council agreed a 25 year lease. It operated under this name until 2018.
For a short time between 2014 and 2015 the building became the second home every Sunday of Harringay Market.
In 2018, with the Kurdish tenants fearful of the possible loss of their home to the developers, they negotiated the purchase of the premises from Haringey Council and started operating under the name of the Kurdish People's Assembly. The sale was made o the condition that the property is "used as a community centre to provide facilities for social, economic educational, leisure and welfare activities for the well-being of the local community". The sale agreement also include a buy-back clause should the building not be put to this use and a covenant to ensure that no redevelopment of the site and building can take place.
Fascinating, thanks Hugh for your research. Such halls were very common and much needed back in the early 20th century as spaces for different societies and groups to meet. There weren't many options for groups when it came to suitable venues.
Rooms above pubs were could be hired and many groups and societies including political ones started off above pubs. But some didn't want to use these because of the assumption that the participants would then spend money on drink there as well. Working men's clubs also provided venues for meetings, political and social, but again some groups would have shunned those preferring a more neutral space for their activities including social ones. Plus teetotal spaces were required by some as the temperance movement was quite strong. Whist drives were popular in the early decades of the 20th century.
The changing use of such venues over the past century is a very interesting strand of research and as you say reflects our changing country/culture.
I've been reading up on American history and discovered that the Temperance movement were about temperance, not abolition. Cider and Beer instead of hard spirits! Hear, hear.
This is great stuff Hugh thanks for this.
One most recent history you've missed off is that the Gardens Residents Assoc (GRA) meet at Fairfax hall every month, in fact we just held our 15th AGM at the centre last week with various special guests from the LBHC Planning Dept, Waste Management, Met Police, neighbourhood watch etc.
I know many other groups hire and meet there too.
Andy Vice Chair GRA
Nosing around in some old Kelly's directories a few months back (as you do), I made some notes about the sorts of small businesses that were around in Harringay in 1902 and 1914 ( I was looking for evidence of German owned businesses because I had been reading about how businesses in North London were attacked and looted in 1915 after the sinking of the Lusitania and I was wondering if this would have affected Green Lanes/Grand Parade too).
In my notes I find a reference in 1902 to the Fairfax Dancing Academy at 11 Portland Gardens run by Greenfield and Edwards, Professors of Dancing. In 1914, the professors were still going but had moved to number 5 (maybe they downsized due to being unable to afford the upkeep of Fairfax Hall?)
We need to get our notes together.
An interesting addendum to this post has just been added by Liz.
Following a discussion this week about a Pankhurst connection (unearthed by local historian Keith Flett a few years ago), I've done a little more digging and have filled in a few of the gaps by adding some detail to my original post, including adding in Liz's and Keith's great nuggets.
Now as complete as I think I'll make this - including a period with Moss Bros and an explosive divorce between the property's Edwardian inhabitants.
Good that you include the history of Fairfax Hall as a venue for political groups but I must take issue with your phrase 'In desperate need of funds...' in relation to the Herald League's activities in the period leading up to the First World War. The Northern District of the Herald League certainly held ticketed fund-raising activities at Fairfax Hall, which combined dances and entertainment as well as popular speakers including Mrs Despard, Victor Grayson, Tom Mann and Sylvia Pankhurst, and also ran a full programme of educational and campaigning activities throughout the year. As well as Fairfax Hall they held events at Allison Hall, on Allison Road and the Argyle Hall on Seven Sisters Road. They had premises at 318 Green Lanes where they had lectures and meetings and they also organised speakers at corners from Tottenham to Holloway Road and weekly meetings in Finsbury Park. As for their politics, these were clearly socialist from the start, they supported strikers in the Black Country and in Dublin, locked out musicians at Wood Green Empire and other local and national campaigns. With the outbreak of war they continued with public meetings and social events, opposing conscription even when speakers were attacked in Finsbury Park.
I mention all this as I felt your account rather under-estimates the level of the Herald League's activities and doesn't quite represent their motivations. Members of the League were also members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. I was interested to see the photographs of the SPGB at the Fairfax Hall and wondered where you had come across these.
Thank you for giving a more rounded overview of the Herald League and SPGB. My knowledge of their history at this stage is limited by the degree to which they are associated with Fairfax Hall. The impression I gained from early twentieth century editions of The Daily Herald is that fund raising was a very pressing need and drove a great part of their use of Fairfax Hall.
Delighted to learn any more you can share with us. I’ll see if I kept a note of the source for the photos.
I thought 'desperate' rather over-stated their fund-raising activities which I tend to see as a normal part of organising when cash support comes from members, supporters and anyone else who might be interested.
You can see some of the activities of the Northern Division mentioned in the Conscientious Objection Remembered walk which has featured on Harringay online. Also, if you don't already know it you could look at Ken Weller's Don't be a soldier! The radical anti-war movement in North London 1914-1918 (https://libcom.org/history/dont-be-soldier-radical-anti-war-movemen...).
And more about the SPGB photos would be good.
Maybe it does. I'm totally open to that being an over-statement. As I said, my impression was formed from contemporary articles in the Daily Herald. This was the paper which the Herald League was originally formed to support. So I assume it was pretty sympathetic to the League and in no way seeking to paint an unfavourable picture.
By the way, the useful libcom article you link to has the following:
This chronic money problem and the need to create a network of committed newspaper sellers motivated the formation of the Herald Leagues late in 1912
And, yes, I'm aware of the CO walk. I'm glad they were able to make use of Keith Flett's and my discoveries about the Fairfax.
There are still many untold stories about the Great War in Harringay. Some time back, Liz Ixer was doing some work on the how Harringay's German community fared. That would be an interesting read.
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